Generally speaking, if you’re in the hospital, you are the only one who gets to make decisions about the care that you receive. As long as you are 18 years old or older, this decision-making power stays with you.
However, as people grow older, this sometimes becomes problematic. They may encounter situations in which they can’t make these medical choices, such as if they suffer from a stroke or if they’ve been diagnosed with a degenerative brain disease. So now who should be in charge of working with the medical team?
Choosing your agent
One option is to choose an agent who can work on your behalf and who legally has the right to make these decisions. You can do this by using a medical power of attorney – sometimes called a health care power of attorney. The document will simply dictate that this other individual can take over making your decisions if you become incapacitated and you’re not able to do so on your own.
There are other ways to make these future choices. For example, you could set up an advance directive that tells the doctors what types of treatment you want. You could also use something like a Do Not Resuscitate order to tell them about treatment that you would not like to receive.
These tactics can work, but medical situations are fairly fluid and unpredictable. As a result, choosing a medical power of attorney may be more useful because they can react to whatever is happening at that moment. The agent can make wise choices with your medical team, and, as long as you trust that individual, you know that your wishes are going to come first.
Setting it up
If you are interested in using advance directives, powers of attorney and other estate planning documents, just make sure you know how to set them up in advance.